Plinker to Olympian
Fundamentals of Marksmanship
Recreational shooting can be fun for many people. It was Thomas
recreational sport of choice, for a variety of reasons. It gave him a
chance to spend time outside, and an opportunity to develop the
self-discipline necessary for proficiency at shooting.
Whether plinking on a shooting range, plinking with friends at informal
targets, or participating in any of the many competitive shooting games,
safety is and should be the predominant theme. That includes concern for
the personal safety of the marksman, safety of others, and safety of
and property. Start by wearing appropriate ear and eye protection, and
sure you can see your target and the surrounding area beyond.
The fundamentals of marksmanship do not vary for the plinker or the
aspiring Olympic competitor. Some have compared marksmanship to such
spiritual disciplines as Zen Buddhism. Shooting demands complete
of the shooter. It demands complete concentration. It demands that the
worries and concerns of daily life be left behind the shooting line and
that an inner tranquility settle in.
Marksmanship may well be reduced to the ability to hit a desired target.
But, the process requires control of one's thoughts, emotions, muscles,
skeletal structure, and breathing, as well as the self-discipline needed
concentrate one's attention on the task at hand: firing an accurate shot.
The best shooters will describe the moment the trigger is pulled and the
bullet sent on its way as a "surprise." Their entire mental focus is on
bringing their mind and body into a state of dynamic tranquility. Their
vision, much like a Big League baseball pitcher who never sees the
only the catcher's glove, is focused on the "sight picture." The steady
pressure of the finger on the trigger becomes second nature, with no
thought to exactly when the sear is released and the hammer strikes the
primer. That is the "surprise."
Recreational shooters can enjoy a variety of sports activities. For
example, there are traditional events such as trap and skeet for shotgun
shooters. Sporting Clays, an exciting game imported from England over the
past few decades, combines a "walk in the woods" with shooting scenarios
that might include grouse, fleet-winged doves, scampering rabbits, or
In addition to the always challenging highpower and smallbore rifle
competitions shot by marksmen and women for the past century, new games
combining a variety of firearms are attracting passionate participants.
There are even shooting events tied to history, such as competitions
involving replicas of Civil War uniforms and weapons. "Cowboy" shooting
competitions require costumes reminiscent of the "Old West" and mastery
19th Century pistols, rifles, and shotguns. Each is entertaining. Each is
demanding. And, within an environment of strict observance of safety and
courtesy, each is fun.
Safety is important in every aspect of shooting. Remember to check and be
certain of your equipment. Keep it clean and in good repair. Check to
ensure it is properly functioning, and that no obstructions or mechanical
problems are present.
Know Your Master Eye
Do you know which is your "Master Eye?" In shooting, that is the eye you
will depend on for sighting your firearm.
Here's a simple way to identify your Master Eye. Point your finger (it
doesn't matter which hand you use) at an object with both eyes open. Then
alternately close one eye, then the other. Your finger will be "lined up"
with your Master Eye only. This way you can tell if you are "right eye"
dominant or "left eye" dominant.
Building Your Platform
As with any sport, success comes when your "position" is most conducive
achieving your goal. Just as in baseball, soccer, football, or tennis,
unless you have a balanced, relaxed, and stable stance, you cannot
your best results. Think of the baseball or softball batter. The hitter
will not achieve maximum efficiency at bat if his or her stance is not
balanced, stable, and comfortable. The same is true with shooting. If the
standing position is required for pistol, rifle or shotgun shooting, then
you must look first to creating a stable "shooting platform," starting
Once your feet are positioned approximately shoulder-length apart, check
make sure that your torso can be supported in a relaxed manner. Actually,
the most stable position is prone. But, the "game" you choose will
the positions you will be required to assume once the signal is given.
Know Your Sights
Adjusting Your Sights
Using open or Iron sights requires you to literally "line up" the
and rear sights for an accurate shot. Optical sights, such as the
traditional telescopic sight, eliminate this step for you. Furthermore,
telescopic sight magnifies the target, making it easier to see. However,
scoped (telescopic) sights are limited in some ways.
First, while the target is magnified, the shooter's field of vision
the telescopic sight is narrowed considerably. A great deal of peripheral
vision is lost because of this "tunnel vision" effect. The shooter or
hunter must take extra care to insure that no other hunter, shooter,
or camper is approaching the danger zone.
The other chief concern relating to scopes is that they are both delicate
and precise. This is never more evident than when you attempt to hold the
scope's cross hairs on a target only to see them rise and fall with the
same rhythmic sequence as your heartbeat.
Sight alignment is exactly that. The front and the rear sight must be
aligned together and with the target. Typical open sights are found in
following styles: Front Post and Rear Open; Front Post and Rear Aperture;
and Front and Rear Aperture.
The Front Post/Rear Open configuration is probably the most common and
familiar to the beginning shooter.
Proper alignment places the front sight exactly in the center of the rear
sight's opening. The top of the front sight should be exactly level with
the top of the rear sight. The same principle applies to other
With the Front Post/Rear Aperture, the Front Post must appear in the
absolute center of the circular aperture of the rear sight. Equal amounts
of "daylight" should be seen to either side of the front sight.
Traditional sighting instruction recommends a sight picture that has
front and rear sights aligned and the target sitting directly atop the
front post much like a cat on a fence. This is also called a "Six
Hold as the front sight is positioned at the 6 mark on a clock face.
Some, however, prefer to take a "Center Hold," where the front post is
directly in the middle of the target.
Important Tip: When using open sights, concentrate your focus on the
sight, not on the target and not on the rear sight. With three separate
items before your eyes, any illusion that you will be able to keep all
three in sharp focus is exactly that, an illusion. The eye can hold sharp
focus on only one thing. Make it the front sight.
A good sight picture will have the rear sight slightly fuzzy, the target
slightly fuzzy and the front sight razor-edge sharp.
Controlling Your Firearm
Proper Trigger Control is another key ingredient in the accurate and
For rifle and pistol shooting, the trigger must be squeezed slowly and
steadily. As the sight picture takes shape, increase pressure on the
trigger in a motion drawing the finger and trigger straight to the rear.
The instant the trigger disengages the sear and the shot is fired should
come as a surprise, because your concentration is focused on the sight
Breathing plays an important part in maintaining your good health.
Similarly, it plays an important role in how well you shoot. Holding your
breath may put a temporary tamper on the in-and-out motion of breathing,
but not for long. Deprived of oxygen for any length of time, the brain
begins to channel your attention to its needs, not to your sight picture
Just as a relaxed attitude and stance are fundamental to good shooting,
too is relaxed breathing. Keep the oxygen coming until the very moment
the shot is fired. Gentle rhythmic breathing to that point is desirable.
you are exhaling, stop midway, gain your sight picture, squeeze off the
shot, and resume breathing.
Even though you've pulled the trigger and sent the bullet on its way,
is important that you regain your sight picture after the rearward
of the shot has caused you to move the muzzle of the gun. Bring your
firearm back in line with the target by again acquiring your sight
after the shot has been fired. This is called follow-through. Once
it will improve your ability to shoot accurately.
If you maintain consistency in your stance, breathing, trigger control,
sight alignment, and sight picture, you will better be able to compensate
for factors such as the wind or a drop in the bullet's flight path due to
Handgun Handling Techniques
The basics of marksmanship apply to handguns as well as long guns. Each
element (see Plinker to Olympian), such as proper stance, sight
sight picture, breath, and trigger control must be maintained.
Handgun shooting depends upon arm, wrist, and hand strength. It lacks the
extra stability of rifle or shotgun shooting, where the shoulder and
are snugged against the stock. Building up your arm strength prior to
visiting the range is a good idea. A simple exercise is to get a two or
three-pound weight (a water-filled plastic milk jug works well) and
practice holding it steady at arm's length. Try extending your index
and pointing at a distinct mark on the far wall to see how long you can
keep it there without trembling.
Handgun Grip Techniques
Whether you use a one-handed or two-handed stance, or whether you are
or left-handed, the basic technique for gripping the handgun remains
constant. The handgun should be snugged tightly against the webbing of
palm between the thumb and index finger of the "shooting" or "trigger"
hand. The only fingers actually holding the handgun are the third, fourth
and fifth. (Note: some of the top handgun competitors from the military
services suggest that the bulk of the work is done by the third and
Think of the thumb and trigger finger as if you are using chopsticks.
is, they should be free from actually gripping the handgun and you should
be able to move each freely without touching the firearm. Keep the thumb
free of the handgun and lightly (applying no pressure) resting at the top
of the handgun's grip to one side. This avoids the typical marksmanship
problem of a "too tight" thumb pushing the aimed handgun away from the
The index or trigger finger's only function is to ensure a straight and
steady rearward motion of the pad of the fingertip on the trigger.
too much pressure with the length of the index finger against the
frame runs the danger of pushing the handgun away from the target in a
similar if opposite action to the over-tight thumb.
Watch Your Thumbs
Do not cross your thumbs behind the handgun. If you shoot a semi-
handgun with crisscrossed thumbs, you will notice too late that the slide
of the semi-automatic traveling rearward to cycle out the spent cartridge
case and chamber a fresh cartridge will have taken with it a chunk from
base of your thumb.
Handgun Shooting Stances
The "position," "stance," or "hold" used when shooting handguns can be
either a one-handed hold or a two-handed hold. Over the years, many
variations have been developed and taught, and their use varies according
to the individual's body size, strength, and personal preference.
An Isosceles Triangle has two equal sides. In the case of the
handgun-shooting stance bearing that name, the two equal sides are the
and right arms of the person holding the handgun. This is perhaps the
basic and easy technique for a novice.
The body with feet spread roughly a shoulder-length apart faces the
Grip the handgun in the "shooting" or "trigger" hand. The support hand
should be held "finger over finger" of the trigger hand.
Bull's Eye Stance
The classic target or "bull's eye" shooter's hold uses one hand. The
shooter's body is positioned almost sideways to the target with feet
about shoulder length apart. This hold can be varied according to the
individual's preference. Some shooters prefer to bring the rearward foot
more forward; some stand with their body almost completely facing the
The handgun is gripped in the "trigger" hand. The non-gun hand is tucked
comfortably in a pocket, on the hip, or with a thumb in a belt loop out
the way. The gun hand is raised to eye level and the principles of
Practical Shooting Variations
The latter decades of the 20th Century saw a resurgence of innovative
recreational handgun sports. A number are based on law enforcement or
military scenarios. Handgun enthusiasts have developed two-handed stances
employing a form of "dynamic tension," with a push-pull use of the right
and left arms.
The most famous is the Weaver Stance. With all deference to its
and the many variations that followed, it basically has the individual
the gun arm forward, while the non-gun arm (employing the finger over
finger, thumb over thumb grip) is bent at the elbow pulling rearward in
attempt to provide a greater bracing effect.
Yet another two-handed technique named after its designer, Paris
uses the gun arm much like a rifle stock. The non-gun hand (with elbow
bent) pulls the rigid gun arm toward the cheek, however, sighting for
handed, normally right-eyed shooters is done with the left eye. For the
left-handed shooter, the right eye is the sighting eye. For individuals
feel comfortable using it, the sights and sighting eye appear to line up
In the final analysis, the proper handgun stance is the stance that
the individual to deliver one aimed, controlled shot after another
efficiently, and comfortably.
Shotgun Handling Techniques
Shotgun shooting has its unique characteristics. For one thing, instead
the steady squeeze so necessary for rifle and handgun shooting, shotgun
trigger technique requires a slap of the trigger! For another, the
is not so much on aiming as it is on pointing. But, first things first.
Accurate shotgun shooting requires quick reflexive coordination among
body and gun. This dynamic action requires a smooth, fluid motion
from a stable, comfortable, and relaxed stance.
The Shotgun Stance
One sports analogy to the proper shotgun stance likens it to that of the
boxer. Feet spread apart, good balance, slight forward lean and bend at
knees, arms and body free to swing either left or right. Natural
is the hallmark here.
Mounting the Shotgun
Experts recommend the following sequence for properly mounting the
to your shoulder. Keep both eyes on the target. Bring the stock to the
cheek (not the cheek to the stock). The trigger hand elbow is raised
shoulder level. Snug the stock back against the shoulder. Lean slightly
toward the target, but not so much that you impair your ability to swing
left or right. When you see the gun's muzzle "touch" the target, give a
crisp, quick pull (the "slap") on the trigger.
Once the shot is fired, don't stop. Keep the shotgun motion following the
target in an easy manner, not unlike using a garden hose to send a spray
water back and forth across a lawn.
Americans for Gun Safety Foundation